The Gemara (Shabbat 88b) teaches us, “Those who suffer insult and do not insult back, hear their shame, and do not respond, act out of love and rejoice with affliction, about them the pasuk (Shoftim 5:31) says, ‘And let those who love Him be like the powerfully shining sun.’”
Interestingly, Rav Wolbe mentions, one who is disgraced and remains silent is compared to the shining sun, which is fully kinetic, with all its potential and intensity brought to the fore. We may expect such an individual to be fully active, like the Energizer bunny that keeps on going. Yet the one who refrains from action or speech, who keeps his mouth sealed, who does not respond to disgrace and tolerates suffering - he is the strongest of all, like the glowing sun.
How Can We Be Like the Sun?
How can we accomplish this? How can we become as strong and bright as the sun?
We know how difficult it is in real time to not respond and to contain the insult without reacting. Yet the highest achievable level of equanimity not only incorporates silence, but also aims to be empathetic to the aggressor. Though at the outset, it appears to be a nearly impossible feat, it is, in fact, quite doable.
Can we perhaps contemplate and explore the pain of the person who shamed us? Can we examine why he may feel the need to stoop so low as to intentionally hurt another person with his words? Is it possible that this very individual is suffering so intensely that he cannot bear the emotional pain, and needs to expel pain onto another? Can we be sensitive to that pain?
If we can, indeed, reach that level, this is how we do it: By moving the perspective of the hurt experienced within ourselves to the hurt within the other person. At this moment, our focus has veered from focusing on our own pain and is instead directed toward the pain of another person. We may even have the capacity to relate to his struggles and truly empathize with his suffering.
The Gemara (Chullin 89a) imparts, “The world endures only in the merit of the one who muzzles his mouth during an argument.” He, too, is being sovel the hurt and holding the retort inside him. At the very highest of levels, he is not only holding his own pain, but also the pain of the one who attacked him.
There are other ways to become as great as the shining sun.
Becoming the Greatest of the Great
Rav Wolbe discusses how we view somebody who is suffering, whether he is in physical or emotional pain, as a nebach case: Oy, poor So-and-So. I feel so bad for him/her. He/she is so broken. But in Rav Wolbe’s words: “It is possible that a man who is sovel is greater than the greatest activist… We must know that one who is holding the pain, and doing so with happiness, is not broken. He is the greatest of the great.” The man lying ill in bed may not be doing anything, yet he can still be on a higher level than those who are perpetually doing.
This is bolstered by the words: “It is good for me that I was afflicted” (Tehillim 119:71). Rashi explains that David HaMelech stated, “It was good in my eyes.” He himself understood the advantages of the suffering he underwent.
The greatest of the great are sovel yissurim, holding the load of suffering. The Tiferet Yehonatan (Bamidbar 3: 5-6) explains Pharaoh’s objective in not forcing Shevet Levi into slave labor like the rest of the tribes: this was to prevent the mashiah, the savior, from emerging from their tribe. The mashiah would not come from Shevet Levi if they were not suffering. And as the Tiferet Yehonatan puts it, if he is not sovel the yissurim of the Jewish people, he’s not fit to be the redeemer.
Notwithstanding Pharaoh’s best efforts, the pasuk tells us (Shemot 2:11), “It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and saw their burdens.” Though he was brought up in the royal palace, Moshe went out to his brothers and saw their burdens. Rashi explains that he directed his eyes and his heart to be distressed over them and their predicament. He was sovel their yissurim. This is the mark of a true redeemer.
Furthermore, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 98a – see Rashi) reveals that the Mashiah, whose arrival we anticipate every day, is sitting at the gates of Rome, being sovel our sins.
The one who is sovel, who tolerates pain and insult, is the greatest of the great, the one suitable to redeem us.